June 16, 2011 § 14 Comments

This guy and his twin guard the front entrance to the Art Institute in Chicago. It’s clear by his stance, by the dip-and-curve of his tail that he means business.

And then, get up close to his face. It says: This place is mine and don’t take anything from here, except inspiration and memory and ideas.

It is odd to snap pictures of paintings; you can go through hoops to get the lighting and the color correct, all without flash which understandably is not allowed. You feel like you can and should snap pictures of the artwork, as though in so doing you can take something of it with you. But you’ll never get it right. Paintings are really three-dimensional and taking of photo of them literally flattens them.

(by Toulouse Lautrec)

Still, you may not want to buy the art postcards of any of the artwork that are found in the gift shop. These, too, cannot nearly capture anything of the artwork, except the memory of seeing it, of the way it makes you gasp when you walk from exhibit room to exhibit room, standing there staring at certain pieces that move you particularly, like the Caillebotte you saw here years ago on one of your first trips to Chicago with your husband and seeing the painting now is like seeing an old friend in the midst of this metropolis where everyone else is a stranger…

(by Caillebotte)

…being caught off guard by one of Renoir’s portraits of a child that is so sweet without being saccharine-sentimental…

(by Jean Auguste Renoir)

…getting smacked in the psyche by looking at the original of Van Gogh’s room in Provence, a piece made even headier by the fact that you lived there, in Provence for a spring and summer and you know what he saw and smelled in  the provencal air…

(by Van Gogh)

…and you duck into the “moderns” and think you have nothing to relate to with them, but then  O’Keefe’s skull and bones in shades of white calls from the wall and so does Hopper’s Blvd of Forgotten Dreams and so does that silly old, nearly clicheed American Gothic which is of a man and his daughter, not his wife, and you can hardly believe it. You’re standing there looking at it, and realize the artist stood there looking at it, too, while working on it. And you marvel.

And you realize that if you had to go to school again, you could learn it all here, looking at the artwork and understanding how and why it was created and what it means, suggests or ignores.

And you stop taking pictures and you just try to “get it,” to feel the message, the reason of it all.
And you think that if you could stop right there, sit on one of the benches off to the side and open a blank book, you could fill it with a story, right there in medias res, surrounded by all that history and paint.

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§ 14 Responses to Art

  • Bella Rum says:

    You must have enjoyed this trip tremendously. I had to laugh about American Gothic. I’ve always thought it was strange that they were father and daughter. Poor thing. She looks like she could be his wife.

    We love Chicago but I’d like to return and visit the museums. We had two little grandchildren with us and spent our days outside.

    The Renoir portrait is beautiful.

    I visited here early yesterday to read your post about Chicago, but I was pulled away by a distraction. So I’m off to read it now.

    • oh says:

      There are so many “stories” with all the art found in a museum, or, in a room. It’s so rich.
      Ah, but Chicago outside is wonderful and such fun with kids along. They see so many things, and the scale is so different. On my first trip to Chicago, I had our daughter along; she was 3. We were joining my husband who was working there for a few weeks on a project. Lea LOVED the city, scorned her stroller and skipped in the parks and along Oak St Beach. And at the time FAO Schwarz Toy Store was going full titl (also like a museum, in a way). How wonderful you travel with your “grands!” You’re inspiring me to turn to my journal in a few minutes; I am just recalling how cool it was when our grandmother took us to the theatre.

  • Ruth says:

    This is my favorite museum, and you’re right, there is nothing like standing in front of the pieces. How about those America Windows by Chagall? I think I went back to them three times, for long periods, I was so mesmerized by blue.

    I always pick up a dozen or so postcards of pieces I haven’t picked up before in the museum shop. You’re right, it’s hard even for them to get the colors right. But I do love having them for bookmarks or sending to friends. And sometimes I write my little flash fictions — Nouvelle 55 — from them, which are just fiction in 55 words prompted by a piece of art.

    • oh says:

      Flash fiction – how perfect! never thought of it. love it. (yes, will try it. I have a box of postcards that have survived my “tossing” bouts and THAT’s what I can do with them – write!!!!!
      And you’re right – the postcards are wonderful to send and share. Here’s to the return of the handwritten note. seriously. Thanks, Ruth!

  • anno says:

    My favorite place in one of my favorite towns — love this tour!

    • oh says:

      Anno – we need to pick a date and place and do (another) meet up…maybe Chicago is a good midway point, but i’m willing to go anywhere north of here (STL) since I am COMPLETELY unfamiliar with any of the states and terrain in that direction.

      And I”ll bet you have some wonderful pictures of Chicago/or museum!

  • Heather says:

    Very cool. So is this one of the places Ferris Bueller went on his day off? I think he and his friend spent time studying a Renior. I’ve never been to Chicago so have to rely on movies for sightseeing!

    • oh says:

      I’d forgotten about the Ferris Bueller thing. (can you relate Broderick to Kevin Bacon?)

      Hmmm… OC convention in Chicago? tough one to sell but what a good time would be had by all!

      • Heather says:

        Matthew Broderick was in War Games with Alley Sheedy. Alley Sheedy was in St. Elmo’s Fire wtih Demi Moore and Demi Moore was in A Few Good Men with Kevin Bacon.

  • ds says:

    Yes, I agree that photographing art somehow flattens it, but I collect the postcards too–as reminders (yes, I really saw that). And then your thought about the artist watching the painting too–what a perspective, creator as audience. Round and round and round it goes.

    Did you really spend two seasons in Provence? Heaven (or so I imagine having never been).

    • oh says:

      You and Ruth are right – the postcards are wonderful for many reasons (not the least of which is writing and sending them to someone!) Actually, I am “dissing” myself in terms of the postcards. I have bought many of them in the past and then let them languish in a box. However, I am digging them out today (when there’s tons of other stuff to do) and will tack them around my office like a chair rail and try Ruth’s suggestion on “flash fiction!” (and maybe send some of them.)

      Now a new problem: so I didn’t buy the postcards; I took these pictures. And THESE will now languish on my laptop! ’til I get them printed!!!! yikes.

      Provence? Yes, studied at the university in Aix-en-Provence. I wish I had kept journals then!

      • Arti says:

        This post is wonderfully written, and for what you’ve shared here, oh, you must go see the new Woody Allen movie “Midnight In Paris”. I know you’ll be pleasantly surprised as the plot unfolds. It’s all about what you’ve shown us here, art and the artists… I wouldn’t say more, don’t want to spoil the joy of discovery for you. If you like, I’ve a review on it just before my Vancouver post. BTW, you’d studied at the U. in Aix-en-Provence! How awesome is that!

  • julietwilson says:

    what a magnificent lion! I love the painting by Caillebotte, the atmosphere there is wonderful

    Crafty Green poet

  • Touch2Touch says:

    The Caillebotte! You could walk directly into the painting, squeeze sideways past the strollers, open your umbrella and vanish off down the street into Paris!

    Then again, everything else at the Art Institute is wonderful too. Thanks for your post and photos, they stir up wonderful memories.

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